A mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue is bringing together residents and supporters throughout the city this week as they process a range of emotions – anger, grief, inspiration and renewed spirituality.
On Wednesday night, scores of University of Pittsburgh students and allies gathered in the rain in the Oakland neighborhood’s Schenley Plaza to rally against hate and gun violence.
“I hope that people walk away understanding that this isn’t just an issue we can think about in terms of anti-Semitism, or just in terms of gun violence. It’s the combination of the two. It’s what happens when violence and hate become one thing, it’s real and it takes people’s lives. And we won’t stand for it,” University of Pittsburgh sophomore Kathryn Fleisher said.
The funerals came the day after President Donald Trump and his family visited the synagogue to pay their respects and encountered demonstrators who condemned the visit. Local and state leaders also declined to accompany him on his travels.
National Jewish leaders, meanwhile, are encouraging Americans of every faith to follow up last week’s deadly shooting by attending Shabbat services in their own hometowns, in solidarity with Pittsburgh.
Funerals continue Wednesday
Mourners gathered Wednesday to bury some of the 11 people killed in the Saturday massacre. Those killed ranged in age from 54 to 97. Additional funerals are planned Thursday.
The funeral for Joyce Fienberg, 75, began Wednesday morning, while the funerals for Irving Younger, 69, and Melvin Wax, 87 – both big Pittsburgh Pirates fans – were held early afternoon.
Fienberg was a widow, a mother and a grandmother who enjoyed a long career as a University of Pittsburgh research specialist. But graduate students of her late husband also knew her as a warm host who welcomed them into her family’s home and sent them holiday cards for years after they left.
Irving Younger was a greeter at Tree of Life synagogue who met people with a warm handshake and showed them to their seats. It was a role that came naturally to the former real estate agent, who used to have an office on one of Squirrel Hill’s main thoroughfares. More recently, he enjoyed spending time at one of the sidewalk tables in front of a local coffee shop, where he appointed himself as greeter, his friend Barton Schachter said.
Melvin Wax’s greatest passions were his grandson, his religion and the Pittsburgh Pirates. His sister said they would joke with him that he should have been a rabbi.
On Tuesday, brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal were laid to rest, followed by Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. Crowds packed the funerals, with long lines snaking through streets and busloads of people coming from synagogues nationwide. Pedestrians quietly watched as motorcades and hearses passed by, followed on foot by mourners dressed in black. Others held hands and wept.
The Rosenthal brothers were fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, and about 100 players and staff members paid their respects at the Rodef Shalom Congregation. Rabinowitz was remembered as caring. He became known in Pittsburgh as the “one to go to” for HIV care because he treated everyone with dignity and respect, former patient Michael Kerr said. His patients are among those grieving his death.
Neighbors protest visit
People who knew the men said they were caring.
Trump came to Pittsburgh to pay his respects Tuesday despite a request by local leaders to stay away until the dead were buried. He was accompanied to Tree of Life by Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The President and first lady lit a candle inside the vestibule for the 11 victims. Outside, the Trumps participated in placing stones, a Jewish custom, atop 11 Star of David markers planted in the ground outside the synagogue. Melania Trump lay single white rosebuds.
Many are neighbors in the close-knit community of Squirrel Hill and they were unhappy with the President. They held signs saying, “Words Matter,” “Strength through Unity,” “Watch Your Words,” and “Hate does not work in our Neighborhoods.”
There were people who weren’t against the President’s visit.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading a service at Tree of Life when the shooting began, said Monday that “the President of the United States is always welcome.” He greeted the President and first lady on Tuesday at the synagogue and told them about the horrific events of the day and the 11 worshippers who were killed.
The Trumps also went to a hospital where they visited with the police officers who were wounded, the widow of one of the victims, and others.
Tree of Life will remain strong, rabbi says
The shooting has struck at the heart of Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and reverberated across the nation as people have banded together to comfort one another and stare down hatred.
Myers has said his congregants would be unbowed.
“We are Tree of Life and, as I said before to many, you can cut off some of the branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not going anywhere,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.” “We will be back stronger and better than ever.”
Support for those directly impacted has swelled in the massacre’s wake. An online fundraiser for the synagogue had raised more than $900,000 toward its $1 million goal by Tuesday evening.
Two victims, a 70-year-old man and a 61-year-old woman, remain in the hospital. The man, who is in critical condition, suffered organ problems stemming from the shooting, but he is improving, said Dr. Donald Yealy, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s head of emergency medicine.
Outreach efforts also have extended to first responders. Those injured in the shooting include police officers, two of whom remain hospitalized.
The walls of the Zone 4 police station, blocks from the synagogue, were lined with handwritten notes from residents. Crowds gathered outside the precinct and chanted, “Thank you! Thank you!”
Muslim communities also raised more than $180,000 in three days for the shooting victims.
Suspect held by feds
Suspect Robert Bowers faces 29 federal charges, including counts of hate crimes that are potentially punishable by death. He made his first court appearance Monday.
Bowers was detained without bond. His next court date is Thursday.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office is looking into whether Bowers and others used social media platform Gab to incite violence based on evidence that the suspect posted anti-Semitic comments on the site. The state has not filed charges.
Andrew Torba, the CEO of Gab, defended the site. In an interview with CNN affiliate WBRE, he said he’s “horrified” the suspect used his site but said “there are bad people in the world, and they are on every social network.”
During the interview, he wore a hat that said, “Make Speech Free Again.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct age for Melvin Wax. He was 87.
CNN’s Amir Vera and Jean Casarez contributed to this report.